Postpartum joint pain. This phrase had never even crossed my mind until about 8 weeks after I had my second baby. Then those three words became the highest google searched term ever. Every waking moment, I was either searching possible causes, reading other's accounts of their experience or researching treatment options that were safe while breastfeeding. But, let me back up just a bit. I'll give you a rundown of exactly what happened to me and what I did about it. My hope is that this will give you some answers, as I felt lost in this search for months. If something similar is happening to you, my wish is that you don't give up hope and that you do ADVOCATE for yourself.
No one will ever care about you and your health like you do.
My Story with Postpartum Joint Pain
I was 6 weeks postpartum and cleared from my OBGYN, so I began a little workout video at home. The day after, I noticed my knees felt funny. I thought I may have just worked out too soon, because it wasn't going away. They weren't sore per say, they just felt a little funny. The following week, a few side planks resulted in the same funny feeling in both my wrists. It was like a tightness that would ease up with stretching. The following week, I woke up and felt all my fingers and toes were swollen. My rings wouldn't fit. Something was wrong. So whom, other than google, did I turn to.
Postpartum joint pain, when googled will result in an overwhelming "rheumatoid arthritis" results. My heart fell into my stomach as I read a bit about this "debilitating and crippling" disease that has no cure. Despite being in the medical field, I had never really looked into details of what RA was. In a nutshell, I learned rheumatoid arthritis is commonly developed in the postpartum period and results in painful, swollen joints that will eventually destroy your body. Okay. There had to be another explanation. I was 32, extremely healthy and in great shape with no family history of this disease of any other auto-immune disorder. And so my search began.
I ran across forum after forum of mothers in their postpartum stage going through the same thing, explaining the same symptoms. I recall one forum consisted of 42 pages of people suffering in the same way. Eager to see if people had posted a follow up, I read each and every entry, robbing my precious breastfeeding time, replacing bonding with worry. It so happened, that a handful of people had followed up and said their pain diminished after 6, 12, 18 months postpartum. HOPE. Maybe this will all go away. Sadly, others did end up with an RA diagnosis. But most just didn't post a follow-up.
So exactly what was I feeling? In the morning I was so, so stiff as a board. My joints were so stiff and sore I couldn't move until hours after I awoke. Throughout the day, all of my joints were swollen but the pain was really not too bad. It was mostly an uncomfortable feeling, like I had been working out constantly and my muscles were fatigued. I realized most of my pain was actually in my tendons. Then the sun went down. When I sat down for the evening after both babies were in bed, I would begin to stiffen up and feel more and more pain. Bedtime was the worst. Every joint, tendon and muscle was on fire. My fingers would claw like a hawk during the night and my right hand would fall asleep, keeping me up all night. It got to a point where I couldn't lift the covers up over my shoulders in the night. Never have I felt such a gnawing, chronic, awful pain. I was awake every hour of the night, then 5 am hit and it would all of a sudden get a better so I could get a decent 2 hours. Despite this, I wasn't too tired in the daytime.
I visited my PCP and had blood drawn. My results were all negative and well within the normal range.
There's not many things more frustrating than having signs and symptoms of a disease/disorder but not having your bloodwork reflect it. I certainly was hoping for negative results, but on the other hand, having the negative result only provided me with confusion. Again, HOPE was glimmering, so I was determined to figure out why I was suffering so much.
A few weeks later, a visit to the rehumatologist rendered me speechless. I described my symptoms (symmetrical joint pain and swelling that was worse at rest, in multiple joints) and he diagnosed me with RA on the spot and began to immediately explain medication options. I was a flabbergasted he didn't even wish to draw more detailed labs! I ended up convincing him that labs were in order.
A fantastic article, Decoding RA - Shedding the Light on the Hidden Causes of Rheumatoid Arthritis, pointed out that genetics, infections, hormones, leaky gut and heavy metals could all be at the root cause of the issue. I was fairly certain mine was directly related to hormones.
The rheumatologist who authored this post indicated he checks for estradiol, prolactin, DHEA, cortisol and testosterone in attempt to balance endocrine systems.
This doctor's response to my lab request was, "Oh, interesting, that's a good idea". Really? I wasn't even going to start thinking about medication until I had some proof of blood work with an attempt to address the root cause first. Long story short, I had more detailed labs taken. Result? All normal. Happy? Yes, but the joint pain was still unbearable. Obviously something was wrong. The only good thing I got from the doc was a prescription for prednisone which made living life possible again. Thank heaven for steroids.
Image by cogdogblog via Flickr
Things I've Tried to Heal & Deal with Postpartum Joint Pain
Disclosure: Some of the links below are affiliate links.
Throughout this process, I've tried acupuncture, lymph massage, myofascial release, chiropractic care and tapping for emotional release. I visited an acupuncturist to deal with the pain in the beginning. It helped a bit, but not enough to keep going. The lymph massage was quite an experience, as it was the first time I have ever felt energy transfer. If you've never heard of Reiki, it is an amazing thing and is worth looking into! The myofascial release and chiropractic care were ineffective at helping my pain. All in all, nothing really worked.
Food Sensitivity/Diet Change
While I was seeing the acupuncturist, I opted to do a food sensitivity screening. Guess what? It was negative. (I did array 4. She said if any of these were positive, I would also likely be sensitive to gluten.) Regardless, I have been following a gluten-free diet since all this went down. Is it working? I don't think so? But there are just so many people who have benefited from cutting gluten (and sugar and dairy) that I am still trying. Where did I get this idea? I have really learned so much from a Facebook group called Rheumatoid Arthritis Healing Naturally Support.
Most people in the above group will tell you in that they reduced their pain by cutting sugar, gluten and nightshades (white potatoes, eggplant, bell peppers and hot peppers). On a side note, everything I thought I knew about nutrition was being thrown for a loop, but that's another story... I also learned much about the different programs aimed at healing your gut, as it is now thought that a leaky gut is responsible or at least associated with autoimmune diseases. To name a few: AIP Paleo, Paddison Program, Whole 30, No Grain No Pain...the list goes on.
I started adding grass-fed collagen, beet powder and colostrum to my smoothies. Collagen has been found to help some with RA. "Lactoferrin (found in colostrum) is an iron-binding protein that is released from activated neutrophils at sites of inflammation and has anti-microbial as well as anti-inflammatory properties." (1) Read more about colostrum here. Beets are super high in antioxidants and some claimed it helped with their pain. I began juicing with ginger and fresh turmeric.
I then went to see a functional medicine doctor (not covered by insurance... oh the joy) who did another round of blood tests on me. One was micronutrient testing. Results showed I was borderline low on multiple nutrients and low in oleic acid. Oleic acid is a monounsaturated omega-9 fatty acid that helps to make up the phospholipid membranes of all cells. He said this may be causing permeability and therefore the joint pain. He wasn't convinced I had RA. The doc gave me a laundry list of supplements to take and said that it would take 3-4 weeks to see improvement, but he was sure it would help.
Here's a list of supplements, brand specific, I'm currently taking:
- Serrapeptase - It's a chemical taken from the silkworm helps the body break down protein which is thought to decrease inflammation (2)
- Lactoferrin - shown to help protect synovial fluid (3)
- Reduced L-Glutathione this and the following are the brands recommended by the functional medicine MD
- Phospholipid Complex
- CoEnzyme Q10
- Zinc (Citrate)
- Vitamin D3
I have looked everywhere to find options to rid my body of this swelling and pain. At first I could only do things compatible with breastfeeding, so I couldn't really do much. Now that I've sadly weaned, I was able to try other options.
Fresh Whole Aloe Juice
I read that aloe can heal leaky gut as well as a plethora of other conditions. Aloe contains over 300 phytotherapeutic substances, is an incredibly strong detoxifier and immune modulator to restore the body. The book Aloe Isn't Medicine, And Yet . . . It Cures! is based on an ancient Brazillian recipe that blends whole aloe with raw honey and a bit of distillate. Preparing the concoction is easy and affordable. The book lists a number of diseases that aloe can cure including many that are autoimmune based, allergies and cancer. It's a tall claim they make, but in my book, it's worth a try!
I ran across a man who has won numerous awards in China for his formulation of herbal tea to cure Rheumatoid Arthritis. At one time he was bed-bound due to the severity of his RA. After treating himself with a potent Chinese herbal tea for 6 months, he was completely healed. This is his website here. There is a video that explains the whole story of how this tea came to be. Long story short, it is available now in the US. So am I trying it? You bet I am.
Where I am Now
So where am I now? As of June 8, 2017 I am 4 weeks into the laundry list of supplements, through one batch of aloe and one week of tea. My pain and swelling is 90% improved when comparing to onset. I've fully weaned my way off the prednisone. Oh, yes, I also found out my mother's brother developed RA last year. Would have been nice to know this fact a few months ago! Due to this new info, I have resigned myself to accepting that I actually may have RA despite all my labs.
So with that, I wish all of you going through the same thing to keep faith, never stop trying to get the root of the problem and to try alternative methods of healing! I know that those first few weeks of pain were absolutely horrendous, mentally and physically. So if you're going through something similar, I wish you and your family the best of luck and will help you in any way I can.